The Art of Mirriam Neal

//the hard truth about writing

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Writer. The word conjures up so many ideas and images. Sipping tea, sitting on a window seat, stargazing, dancing barefoot through spring grass, daisy chains, ink pots and quill pens and probably a dragon or two.

I hate to break it to you, but none of these things have to do with writing. I think many people dream of being writers because it sounds so romantic, so fun, so carefree. Look – it’s not like we wake up in the morning and sail away on a dreamboat made of paper. (Although if I’m being honest, that would be nice.)

Are you a writer if you write? Yes. But I have known many writers who will never be authors. They talk about getting a publisher one day, they discuss editing and all the grand novel ideas swirling in their minds, but there are common themes weaving a pattern through their ‘work habits.’

  • Distractions. Many people have inspiration bursting at the seams. They have incredible ideas that leave me green with envy, and yet they never finish anything. And I mean anything. They get so caught up in worldbuilding that they become distracted by every minute detail, or they get yet another novel idea and they have to start it that very instant, or the worst offender: plot bunnies. Many people imagine plot bunnies as cute, fuzzy critters that pop into your mind and lead you down a rabbit hole into a better storyline, but this is merely a disguise. Plot bunnies are, in fact, red-eyed phantom demons sent to makes very certain you never, ever finish that book, or that chapter, or that plot. If you blame something on the Plot Bunnies, congratulations – evil has won.
  • Grammar. Congratulations – you have motivation. You don’t get distracted, and you have fantastic ideas. However, your grammar is lacking. How important is punctuation, really? How many adverbs need cut? Actually, wait – what is an adverb? I’ve read many manuscripts before that could have been incredible books, but I couldn’t slog through the bad grammar, or the complete lack thereof. ‘Oh, that’s what editors are for’ is not an excuse. Your editor is hired to fine-tune things, not to waste three years of their life by completely overhauling your manuscript. If you don’t know grammar, learn it. You have no excuse except laziness.
  • Too many things at once. This falls in with the first category, really, and I used to be guilty of this myself. I would try to write four or five (or eight or nine) books at once, and I wouldn’t finish any of them. I was spread thin, like peanut butter over too much toast (completely original analogy, thank you) and I didn’t have enough inspiration or motivation to keep up with any of them. In an attempt to write them all, I wrote none. This is a sad thing and I urge you not to fall headfirst into the pit of ‘yes, I’m writing twelve novels at once and I’m doing JUST FINE thankyouverymuch.’ You aren’t doing ‘just fine.’ You’re taking years to finish even one novel, and unless you’re writing Les Miserables (please don’t be writing Les Miserables), this is inexcusable.

BUT MIRRIAM, you say, I have none of these problems! I’m not distracted, my grammar is near-flawless, I write only one or two novels at a time—and yet, something is still missing. I can’t complete a novel, and I can’t remain inspired. Why is this?

I may have some hard news for you.

You may not be an author. You may enjoy writing, you may have completed every writer dare on Pinterest, you may word-war with the best of them and you may talk about writing like it’s the air you breathe, but if you have never completed a novel, writing seriously may not be for you. I’m not saying authors don’t have dry spells, or that authors are exempt from writer’s block. But if you’ve been dabbling in writing for years and you haven’t completed anything, you may need to take a step back and look things over with a critical eye.

I know usually I’m more optimistic and encouraging than this, but I’m not trying to break your heart or crush your soul like a grape. I’ve known many people who simply weren’t cut out to be writers or authors. Did they enjoy writing? You bet. Were they decent writers? Sure, some of them were even good. And yet they’ve never finished a novel. They talk about writing until the sun goes down, but they never sit down and do it.

Because here’s the thing – being a writer isn’t nearly as romantic as it sounds. Not that it can’t be romantic, but romance is a side-dish. The main course means typing until your vision blurs and your fingers cramp, and it means writing even when you don’t feel like it. Even when your brain feels like a hollowed-out melon. It means doing more than just thinking about writing, or talking about writing. It means hard work. It means discipline.

If you enjoy writing, then please write. But if you want to be an author, you have to realize the amount of work and dedication it takes. If it’s what you want, don’t be daunted. Be encouraged, because it’s worth having, and the higher the hill the greater the satisfaction when you reach the top.

But save the daisy chains and barefoot dancing. They can be a reward for finishing your next chapter.

PS. This may have seemed a little on the Downer side, but hopefully the next post will provide some Uplift because if you aren’t sure either way but you really, really want to write – then I really, really want you to write, too.

PPS. Arielle and I decided we should both write about this topic today, so visit her insightful post here!

PPPS. Jenny joined in! Read her elegant rant here!

 

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